That A**hole Who is Right

May 12, 2020Categories: Reason,

The Dr. Bo Show with Bo Bennett, PhD
The Dr. Bo Show is a critical thinking-, reason-, and science-based approach to issues that matter. It is the podcast of social psychologist Bo Bennett. As of 2020, this podcast is a collection of topics related to all of his books.

We all know that person. They are arrogant, abrasive, and don't possess one iota of diplomacy—or even if they do, they have chosen not to exercise any with us. In short, they are an a**hole, and they are everywhere, from participating in online forums to living in the White House. Perhaps it would be a sign that there is God if a**holes, in general, were wrong far more often then they are right. Unfortunately, there is no credible evidence that suggests this is the case. This means that we all have likely been "corrected" by an a**hole at one time or another. Because of, well, human nature, the chances are that we strongly resisted the "correction" if not outright rejected it, and were probably led down a no-win path of feeling forced to continue to defend something we no longer support. If this sounds familiar, read on.

Recently, someone had pointed out an error I had made in one of my books (yes, I make errors). Generally, I am appreciative of this kind of feedback because it allows me to improve the quality of my books—it is like crowdsourcing editing and not having to pay for it. And generally, readers are either polite, diplomatic, or they get right to the point by writing, "you have an error..." Sometimes, however, they write things that short-circuit my reasoning resulting in my emotion taking over, which further results in an irrational response on my part. I wasted countless hours in back-and-forth, useless, bickering that did nothing but irritate me further. The good news is, the older I get, the more resistant I seem to be to the seductive lure of a**hole-ness.

Diplomacy, Diplomacy, Diplomacy.

There are two sides to this ugly equation: the a**hole and the one that has to deal with the a**hole. Although we cannot control who is an a**hole to us, we can control ourselves from being the a**hole.

So few people realize how much likability plays in getting what you want. Consider the server at a restaurant who, at their discretion, could provide you with extra fries at no charge. If the server likes you, you will get the fries at no extra charge. If you are an a**hole, you will have to pay for the fries or worse, you will get what the staff in the kitchen call the "fries surprise" (the extra fries sprinkled with that which you did not order).

What about when you have nothing to gain from being kind? I would like to say that human decency should be enough of a reason not to be an a**hole, and kindness shouldn't be something that you practice only when you have something to gain. But let's face it, if you're an a**hole, then this won't convince you. If your goal is not only to be right but get the other party to concede that you are right and they are wrong, diplomacy is the way to go—without question. If your goal is simply to troll (i.e., be an a**hole), consider Karma. Not the metaphysical version but the very real version otherwise known as cause and effect. Sometimes, the effects of your behavior result in clear causes that are easy to foresee. Most of the time, however, human behavior has a ripple effect that spans both time and space in a chaotic fashion. Simply put, being an a**hole often comes back to bite you in the ass.

Don't be misled by the research showing that a**holes are richer, get what they want more often, have more sex, etc. Virtually all of this research is correlational, meaning it wasn't demonstrated that it was their a**hole-ness that caused these positive things; these positive things are just associated with a**hole-ness. While being an a**hole may have its advantages, I would argue any day that kindness and likability are far better qualities for getting what you want.

Advice on Dealing with A**holes Who Are Right When You're Wrong

Keep in mind that I am giving this advice as someone who still fails at successfully dealing with a**holes from time to time. I will say, however, that upon reflection, I am able to see the error of my ways, and if I could go back just hours or sometimes just minutes in the past, the present me would be far wiser than the me in the immediate past. Follow these three steps before responding to an a**hole who corrected you:

  1. Whatever you do, do NOT respond right away. Take time to compose yourself before hammering out a reply on your keyboard. Allow the wise, future you to exist who doesn't have to time travel to lecture the you in the past.
  2. Review your primary goal and consider what response would be inline with that goal. If you are running a business and an a**hole customer corrects you, remember that your primary goal is to make money. Starting a debate with a customer will not further that goal.
  3. Use Humor to Respond. Humor can cause the audience to turn on the a**hole and support you—it comes back to likability. Unless you stick with self-deprecating humor, this technique isn't appropriate to use on clients and risky to use on those who have influence over your professional life. Also note that if you are generally bad at humor, your responses can come across as mean, bitter, or inappropriate. Here is a good example of the effective use of humor:

    A**hole: You are an idiot. Clearly, you are wrong about this. Here are the facts: (facts listed with references).
    You: I stand corrected. Thank you for pointing out my error. If you don't mind, I will return the favor. You spelled "handsome genius" wrong.

In summary, there will be times when you are wrong, and some of those times will be pointed out to you by a**holes. Every fiber of your being will tell you to defend your wrong answer just so the a**hole doesn't get the victory. Fight this urge and follow the steps previously mentioned. If you do this right, you will win twice: first, you will believe more true things and fewer false things because of the correction and second, you will have come out ahead in the exchange as the one who, although was wrong about something, is smart enough to learn from mistakes, as the one who is more diplomatic, and as the one who is not the a**hole.

Read More Like This in Reason: Books I & II

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